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A deciduous tree up to 65 ft high, the bark on the old branches and trunk light grey and peeling off in small flakes; young shoots glabrous, yellowish. Leaves oblanceolate or narrow-obovate to broad-obovate, 3 to 63⁄4 in. long, 13⁄8 to 43⁄4 in. wide, lower surface variable in indumentum from glabrous or almost so to appressed-downy, or villose along the midrib and main nerves. Flowers erect, produced before the leaves on glabrous peduncles. Tepals usually twelve in number, pink, or white stained purple at the base, 3 to 31⁄2 in. long and about 2 in. wide at the broadest part. Fruit-cones slender, about 3 in. long.
A native of Hupeh and E. Szechwan, China, where according to Wilson it is common in moist woods and thickets at 3,300 to 5,700 ft. It seems to have been first found by Augustine Henry in 1885; Wilson made further collections during his expeditions for Messrs Veitch and for the Arnold Arboretum, and sent seeds under W.688, collected autumn 1900 in woods near Chanyang Hsien, south of Ichang (see further under the varieties).
Wilson was convinced that this magnolia was no more than the wild prototype of the yulan, M. denudata, and it was under the names M. denudata var. purpurascens and M. denudata var. elongata that Wilson’s collections were treated in Plantae Wilsonianae, Vol. 1 (1913), pp. 401-402. On going into the matter thirteen years later, Dr Stapf of Kew recognised that this magnolia was a distinct species, which he had intended to call M. diva until his attention was called to M. sprengeri, described by Pampanini in 1915 from specimens collected a few years previously in Hupeh by the Italian missionary Silvestri. Examination of Pampanini’s type showed that it matched the Wilson specimens so well in flower that Dr Stapf abandoned his proposed name M. diva in favour of M. sprengeri. Unfortunately the type-specimen of M. sprengeri consists of flower only, so we are left without knowledge of the leaves of the typical variety or even of the flower-colour, which does not show up on the dried specimen. For this reason an overall description of the species is given above. In gardens it is necessary to recognise two varieties:
var. diva - specimens: Borde Hill, Sussex, The Tolls, 68 × 4 ft (1975); Westonbirt, Glos., Circular Drive, pl. 1960, 54 × 23⁄4 ft (1980); Caerhays, Cornwall, pl. 1912, 56 × 61⁄2 ft (1975).
M. sprengeri diva Stapf
M. denudata var. elongata Rehd. & Wils.
M. sprengeri elongata (Rehd. & Wils.) Stapf